The comments from both programs this week have downplayed whatever home field advantage Texas may have Saturday but the truth remains: no program is more familiar with the way the ball bounces at Rosenblatt than the Longhorns. None. After all, Texas is extending its NCAA record CWS appearances to 32 games this Saturday and has made the trip five of the past six seasons, and each year now for the past four.
"Unlike the other teams, it's mandatory that we're here," Garrido said Thursday. "I don't know if it's exciting or not. It's more of a sense of relief and peace. There's a different point of view at The University of Texas, and that point of view is that you go to the College World Series."
The Horns are the only team to return to Rosenblatt from last year's entrants and have finished first, third and second in each of the past three seasons, respectively. Texas (51-16) is looking for its sixth national championship and is one victory away from tying USC as the winningest team (74 wins) in CWS history. The Bears (44-22), meanwhile, are looking for their first CWS win in what will be their fifth appearance overall.
"Coach Garrido has won more games than I've even coached," Baylor coach Steve Smith said.
The last time Baylor arrived at this field of dreams, Jimmy Carter was still in the White House, no one knew that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father, and no player currently wearing a BU uniform had even been born. In short, it's Baylor's first trip to Rosenblatt since 1978. Meanwhile, it would be unprecedented for a current Longhorn senior to spend this weekend any place other than Omaha.
But does it matter?
Baylor players could very well point out the last time the two schools met at a neutral site (May 28), the result was a 9-8 Bear win after rallying from a 5-1 deficit in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament. It was also the last time Texas played without First-Team All-Big 12 C Taylor Teagarden, who suffered a ribcage injury at Texas A&M on May 20. Baylor eventually fell to Nebraska in the title game but shared the regular season championship with the Cornhuskers.
The Horns, as of late, have lived up to Garrido's assessment that the club tends to respond when its back is against the wall. Texas advanced to the CWS only after winning five straight elimination games in both the Austin Regional and the Oxford (Miss.) Super Regional. One Longhorn assistant coach commented, late in the season, that the team tended to play down to the level of its competition. But there should be no playing down to a team that Texas went 0-for-four against this season.
The Bears will bring a team batting average of .270 to Omaha while the Horns are hitting .304. Senior C/1B Josh Ford is Baylor's leading hitter with a .333 average while scoring a team-best 45 runs. He is tied with Michael Griffin (.292) for most hits at 81. Senior C Zack Dillon (.310) paces his squad with 42 RBIs.
Senior SS Seth Johnston was named to the NCBWA second-team All-America list this week after leading the Big 12 with his .387 batting average. He also paces Texas with 109 hits, 63 RBIs and 163 total bases.
CF Drew Stubbs is looking to shake the kind of post-season offensive slump that bedeviled him at Omaha last season. The sophomore, whom Garrido labeled "the best player I've ever coached" went 0-7 at the plate during the last two Longhorn wins and also struggled with his bat at the Austin Regional. There has been no slippage in his stellar defensive play but his batting average has dipped to .317, tied for fifth on the team with RF Nick Peoples. Stubbs is the master thief in Omaha, as he is 31-of-37 heading into the CWS.
Baylor's pitching staff has combined for a .3.22 ERA while the Horns will counter with its 2.91 team ERA. The Baylor staff is paced by a couple of right-handed pitchers in Abe Woody (9-3, 2.270 ERA) and Mark McCormick (8-3, 2.95 ERA).
Longhorn ace Kyle McCulloch (10-4, 3.10 ERA) was recovering from a sore back when he took the mound against Baylor in the conference tournament and is the probable starter Saturday. Closer J. Brent Cox (7-3, 2.0 ERA) was named First-Team All-American on Wednesday by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. The junior leads the nation with 17 saves and appeared in all three games at Oxford. He has recorded 75 Ks in 67-1/3 innings. Freshman RHP Kenn Kasparek, with his 8-0 record and 2.03 ERA, is the program's most pleasant surprise this season.
Following the surprise loss to Arkansas in the Austin Regional, Garrido said it would "take some heroes" for Texas to advance to the CWS. And the heroes have come from some unlikely places. If there was a 'Most Outstanding Player' award at the Super Regional, it would have gone to Peoples. Honorable Mention should go to DH Will Crouch (batting .322 with 29 RBIs), but Peoples turned in a pair of highlight reel defensive plays in the 6-4 win Monday (a diving grab that clearly saved a run and a bullet from the foul line to second base for the put-out). Much like his diving grab in the Regional title win over Arkansas, the sophomore's tide-turning defensive heroics had the effect of jump-starting the Longhorn offense in its next at-bats. Peoples also opened the score in Texas' 3-1 win Saturday with his first career homer.
The Bears and Horns are in the same bracket as top national seed Tulane and PAC-10 champ Oregon State. Saturday night's winner will play the Tulane-Oregon State survivor at 6 p.m. (Central), Monday. The losers will meet in an elimination game 1 p.m., Monday.